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The “Cool” vs “Creepy” Conundrum: Taking the Consumer Pulse on Innovative Tech

Despite the extent to which technology has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives, some consumers aren’t sold on every innovation out there. What’s more, many individuals simply don’t understand what some increasingly mainstream technologies are—and how commonly we interact with them.

Experience personalization firm RichRelevance set out to take the pulse on consumer sentiment around some of the most talked-about technologies today, surveying more than 1,000 U.S. consumers last month.

Among the most notable takeaways: digitally savvy millennials (which RichRelevance defines as 18 to 29 years old) are significantly more open to new tech than the general population, describing innovations as “creepy” in decidedly smaller numbers. Take Alexa, for example, and other voice assistants that can offer product recommendations and place orders for you, queue up music and spit out weather reports with a simple voice command. More than two-fifths (41 percent) of consumers said they’re “creepy,” compared with not quite one-third (32 percent) of millennials.

Though retailers have been rolling out augmented-reality apps to enable more realistic and contextual product visualization—see Zara, H&M and Amazon, for example—consumers aren’t so sure about this innovation just yet. For 36 percent of consumers, AR is “creepy,” though 10 percent fewer millennials aid the same.

Even chatbots get a fair bit of side eye from a sizable chunk of consumers. The AI-driven technology, which commonly helps retailers automate some of the more straightforward aspects of customer service, gets the “creepy” vote from 41 percent of consumers versus 27 percent of millennials.

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However, the survey found consumers across all demographics united against some technologies. Participants rejected the idea of clothing or wearables with embedded sensors that let retailers track you in exchange for discounts and offers (76 percent called it “creepy” versus just 10 percent calling it “cool”). Consumers also didn’t care for the idea of retailers predictively ordering products on their behalf based on previous shopping behavior (69 percent “creepy” to just 14 percent “cool”). And though companies are investing in facial recognition technologies that can identify loyal shoppers when they enter a store and transmit their preferences to personnel in an attempt to personalize service, consumers surveyed by RichRelevance aren’t so keen on this sort of invasive application, dubbing it far more “creepy” (61 percent) than “cool” (24 percent).

Consumers seemed to approve of certain technologies, though with far less enthusiasm. In-store robots that can steer you to a desired item got the thumbs up from 48 percent, though 32 percent still gave them the thumbs down. Forty-six percent liked the idea of using their fingerprint to pay for purchases in store and even enable home delivery; again, though, 31 percent nixed this notion.

RichRelevance said that more than two thirds of survey takers are at least vaguely familiar with the term AI, no surprise seeing as how it’s commonplace in headlines these days. Of note, more than three quarters (81 percent) of respondents said they believe companies should inform them when and how they’re using AI, though 32 percent expressed a positive attitude toward artificial intelligence.

Overall, Americans understand that companies have their data and mostly want to use it to improve services, despite the rash of high-profile incidents and breaches so far this year. Most consumers (59 percent) are content to hand over their data in exchange for a better customer experience, RichRelevance found, though 40 percent want that data gathered without tying it back to a specific individual.

RichRelevance CMO Mike Ni said that for the most part, consumers get that AI typically works for their benefit. “However, consumers are increasingly expecting brands and retailers to be transparent about when and how they’re using AI in their interactions,” Ni said.

“As a result, companies are increasingly under pressure to adopt explainable and open AI systems that provide clear insight into how and why decisions are being made,” Ni added. “Traditional black box, closed AI solutions are just not an option anymore.”